"I could do it" Sounds like the possibility of the speaker performing a task.

"I can do it" Sounds like the affirmation of the ability of the speaker to perform the task.

Is it really all that makes can & could different from each other, or is there better explanation?

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  • Welcome to ELU! Please could you add the research you have done? – marcellothearcane Aug 18 at 18:54

I can do it - means ‘I have the physical ability, skill, or resources’ that are needed, to do it. Hence ‘it is possible for me to do it’.

I could do it - is as above, but is conditional - which means that ‘doing it’ also depends on the will or choice of the person being called on to do... whatever it is. As in:

‘I could do it...

  • if I wanted
  • any time after 2.30pm
  • if I had time
  • if you give me an extra $10

So the ‘could’ is conditional, either on the will or choice of the ‘doer’, or on some other condition (of any kind - weather, time, resources, etc.) being met, in order for the action to be possible.



If you want to ask someone to do something for you, then use ‘could’.

‘Could you park over there, please?’ ‘Yes, sure, no problem’.

If you used can:

‘Can you park over there please?’ ‘Yes I can, but I’m not going to!’

If you use can, you ask about ability.

If you use could, you ask about possibility.

  • Could is also the past tense of can, and can refer to ability in the past, not just the conditional. It would probably be better if you quoted the various senses from a dictionary—because you missed that important one (as well as a less common third). – Jason Bassford Aug 14 at 5:40

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